Shakin’ Events Up: Are Attendees Ready?

November 18, 2011

Do you like your meetings shaken or stirred?

I have a confession.  I hate sitting in conference educational sessions. Well not all sessions. Mostly I don’t like the sessions where there is a presenter droning on for an hour. I tune out. People tune out.  When Midori and I present we try and build interactive sessions that present educational content in an interactive design.  When we work with clients on event engagement and technology plans, we design meetings that integrate components that help to enhance the attendees experience. From adding a mobile application to social media to live streaming to session design, we look at what will help to make attendees get the most out of the networking and content.

Last weekend I was having dinner with Paul Salinger, who is a thought leader in events working on the Oracle OpenWorld team and serving as President of the Green Meetings Industry Council. Paul asked me if attendees are ready for change or if they are happy with the same ole’, same ole’.  This was a great conversation starter. Many times, when people go to meetings and conventions, this is the only “break” that they get from their regular job.  They view the experience as a reward and don’t always want to “work.” People have been conditioned to sit back and watch a speaker present. They are used to being passive viewers and not active participants. People are resistant to change. When it comes to technology, some people love it and others run from it like it was the devil.

So what is a change-seeking-innovative-forward-thinking event professional to do? How do you bring change to a meeting or convention without alienating or scaring your attendees?

Seven Ways to Shake Up Your Event and Make Attendees Like It.

  1. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Whenever you are rolling out something new, whether it is a mobile application or a new session design, let attendees know not only what you are doing, but why you are doing it.
  2. Make Small Changes. You may not want to completely overhaul an entire event all at once. Instead, try adding one or two new components and see how people react so that you can tweak things in the future.
  3. Collect Real-time Feedback. Conference evaluations don’t always capture the real story. When trying something new, talk to people right away and see if they are enjoying the change. Watch their body language to see if they really mean what they say. Look for smiles in the audience. Observing attendees behavior can sometimes tell you more than any survey ever can.
  4. Make Them a Little Uncomfortable. In order to make change, you need to push people a little bit out of their comfort zones. You might not be pushing them off of the cliff, but you might being them to the edge without a net.
  5. Use Advocates. The host organization doesn’t always have to be the one one to promote new things. Use your advocates (leaders, committee members, even sponsors and speakers) to help promote what you are doing and why you are doing it.
  6. Provide Support. This is especially important with event technology. If you are going to introduce something, make sure that you have enough people on hand to help walk people through it. If you are trying a new session format, help the facilitator create clear directions so that people don’t get lost or overwhelmed.
  7. Use Incentives. Sometimes to get people involved you need to bribe incentivize them. Reward people for joining conversations, create a competition in an educational session or hide information in a mobile app that answers a trivia question. And prizes matter. If you have the budget, use good incentives to get people involved or ask your sponsors to add something of value.

Over the next few years we are going to see more meeting planners looking at ways to integrate technology and educational design into their events to shake things up. Are you ready? Are your attendees ready? What will you do to shake it up?